OAKLAND -- The murder trial of two men accused in the murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey will remain in Alameda County -- for now.

Superior Court Judge Thomas Reardon issued a one-sentence ruling late Tuesday that he will take the case through jury selection here while keeping open the possibility of moving it elsewhere if a fair panel cannot be seated.

"It is hereby ordered that ruling on defendants' motion for change of venue is deferred pending voir dire (jury selection) in this matter," Reardon wrote.

Lawyers for co-defendants Yusuf Bey IV and Antoine Mackey. both 24, said during a change of venue motion last week that their clients can't get a fair trial in Alameda County because of "relentless" coverage of Bailey's Aug. 2, 2007, death.

Bey IV is accused of ordering the killing of Bailey; Mackey is accused of helping confessed killer Devaughndre Broussard, 24, hunt down Bailey and then flee the scene. Bey IV and Mackey are also charged with the murders of two other men, Odell Roberson and Michael Wills, in unrelated cases.

Bey IV, Mackey and Broussard remain jailed in Alameda County while awaiting trial.

At the time of his death, Bailey, 57, editor of the Oakland Post, was working on a story about financial and management turmoil at the now-defunct Your Black Muslim Bakery in Oakland, where Bey IV was leader.

"This is really in essence, a denial of our motion," said Gene Peretti, Bey IV's lawyer. Peretti noted that even if Reardon had denied the motion for change of venue outright, the defendants would have filed the motion again if they believed unbiased jurors were not found during the selection process.

Reardon "made the safe choice" in deferring the final ruling, Peretti said. He said he didn't yet know how such a deferred ruling would affect the defense's ability to appeal.

Prosecutor Melissa Krum, who had argued that it was premature to move the trial without first going through jury selection, said in a e-mail to reporters that Reardon made the right decision.

"Alameda County's citizens have the responsibility and the right to sit as the triers of fact on guilt for the three charged murders, so long as they can be fair and impartial," she wrote. "I am confident that we will be able to seat a qualified jury here in Alameda County."

Reardon seemed skeptical of defense claims during a three-day hearing last week, saying at one point he wanted to "look jurors in the eye" and assess the influence of publicity on them.

When a defense expert testified that polling showed 70 percent of potential jurors believed Bey IV and Mackey are definitely or probably guilty, Reardon was quick to point out that 30 percent then held other opinions.

The case generated hundreds of newspaper stories and television reports. Bey IV even orchestrated a website -- Free the Bakery Brothers -- from jail in an attempt to generate publicity about his claims of innocence. It was taken down when lawyers objected to it.

Bailey's siblings and father wrote to Reardon last week, saying it was their "strongest wish" that the trial not be moved.

Bey IV and Mackey are due back in court Thursday morning, when Peretti said he expects a trial date could be set at a brief hearing.

It is also expected that Mackey's lawyer, Gary Sirbu, will soon file a motion asking that the defendants be granted separate trials.

He said trying Mackey next to Bey IV was akin to trying Hermann Georing -- the Third Reich's second in command -- next to Hitler, a comment for which Reardon rebuked him.